Stephen Fry’s blasphemy probe dropped after Irish police fail to find ‘enough outraged people’ | The Independent

Stephen Fry’s blasphemy probe dropped after Irish police fail to find ‘enough outraged people’ | The Independent


An Irish police investigation into allegedly blasphemous comments made by Stephen Fry has been dropped after detectives decided there were not enough people who had been outraged by the remarks.

Police launched an investigation into the presenter, author and comedian after he described God as “capricious”, “mean-minded”, “stupid” and an “utter maniac” during an appearance on Irish television show “The Meaning of Life” in February 2015.

The comments were widely reported but did not become a legal matter until a man complained last year, prompting a police enquiry.

Under Irish law, it is illegal to use words that are “grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred to any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion”.

After initial inquiries, officers decided that not enough people had been outraged by Mr Fry’s remarks to warrant further investigation, according to the Irish Independent.

A source told the paper: “This man was simply a witness and not an injured party. Gardaí (Irish police) were unable to find a substantial number of outraged people.

“For this reason the investigation has been concluded.”

Asked in 2015 by the programme’s host, Gay Byrne, what he would say to God if he arrived in heaven, Mr Fry replied: “I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about?”

“How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil.

“Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain?

“We have to spend our life on our knees thanking him? What kind of god would do that?

“The god who created this universe, if it was created by god, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish.”

Under Ireland’s 2009 Defamation Act, anyone “who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence” and liable for a fine of up to €25,000 (£21,200).

The man who made the initial complaint about Mr Fry is said to have been satisfied that Irish police had investigated the matter fully and told detectives he was merely doing his civic duty in reporting it.

Given there was no one deemed to be harmed by the comments, the case is now said to have been closed.


20,000 Worldclass University Lectures Made Illegal, So We Irrevocably Mirrored Them – LBRY

20,000 Worldclass University Lectures Made Illegal, So We Irrevocably Mirrored Them – LBRY

Today, the University of California at Berkeley has deleted 20,000 college lectures from its YouTube channel. Berkeley removed the videos because of a lawsuit brought by two students from another university under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We copied all 20,000 and are making them permanently available for free via LBRY.

This makes the videos freely available and discoverable by all, without reliance on any one entity to provide them (even us!).

The full catalog is over 4 TB and will be synced over the next several days.

How to Access
Until LBRY launches to the public in April, the videos are only accessible to technical users via the command line.

If you already have access to LBRY, go to lbry://ucberkeley to see the full catalog.

If you want to be notified as soon as the videos are made public to everyone, sign up here.

If you’re command-line-capable but new to LBRY, follow this guide, then access lbry://ucberkeley.

Is This Legal?
Almost certainly.

The vast majority of the lectures are licensed under a Creative Commons license that allows attributed, non-commercial redistribution. The price for this content has been set to free and all LBRY metadata attributes it to UC Berkeley.

Additionally, we believe that this content is legal under the First Amendment.

The Perfect Content for LBRY
While other archive teams have also backed up these lectures using traditional methods, publishing them to LBRY offers greater openness, usability, and robustness.

LBRY is the first truly free and censorship-resistant way to exchange content. The LBRY protocol provides a completely decentralized network for discovering, distributing, and publishing all types of content and information, from books to movies.

When publishing the lectures to LBRY, the content metadata is written to a public blockchain, making it permanently public and robust to interference. Then, the content data itself is hosted via a peer-to-peer data network that offers economic incentives to ensure the data remains viable. This is superior to centralized or manual hosting, which is vulnerable to technical failure or other forms of attrition.

Why This Court Decision Hinged on the Oxford Comma | Atlas Obscura

Why This Court Decision Hinged on the Oxford Comma | Atlas Obscura

The Oxford comma, also known as the serial comma, refers to the comma that appears just after the penultimate item and before the coordinating conjunction of a list of three or more things. As in: “The story you’re reading right now might also be referred to as an item, post, or article”—the Oxford comma, in this case, being the punctuation mark just after the word “post.”

But the necessity of that comma has long been debated, and, indeed, many style guides, including the Associated Press Stylebook, advise against using it. Others argue (correctly, we’ll note) that it adds clarity and reduces the risk of ambiguity.

Still, the stakes of whether to comma or not are usually very low, more the domain of barroom arguments between certain sets of, well, nerds, than real-life consequences.

Until Monday, that is, for a group of delivery drivers in Maine. That’s when the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in their favor in a case that hinged on an (unused) Oxford comma.

The (non-) comma in question came in this passage of Maine’s overtime law, concerning what drivers cannot be paid overtime for:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

Agricultural produce;
Meat and fish product; and
Perishable foods

“As it happens,” Judge David Barron wrote in the court’s decision, concerning the lack of a comma after the word “shipment,” “there is no serial comma to be found in the exemption’s list of activities, thus leading to this dispute over whether the drivers fall within the exemption from the overtime law or not.”

The comma, Barron then wrote, was important, since ambiguities “must be construed liberally” under Maine law, meaning that the delivery drivers, who had sued for overtime pay, might in fact be entitled to such pay since “distribution” in the law is not unambiguously separate from “packing for shipment.”

The drivers had sued a dairy that employed them, a company, as it turned out, that was less the victim of its own grammatical decision than that of Maine’s lawmakers.

Still, the court’s decision on the matter isn’t final—a lower court will now reconsider the case—but it is, possibly, an important victory for the drivers, while also being, unambiguously, an important victory for Oxford comma advocates.

Plaintiffs, Appellants,
Defendants, Appellees.

California Supreme Court: No, you can’t hide public records on a private account | Ars Technica

California Supreme Court: No, you can’t hide public records on a private account | Ars Technica

The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that state and local officials must disclose public records even if those “writings” are held on private devices or accounts. The City of San Jose and the County of Santa Clara had argued that such records could be exempted from the California Public Records Act.

The case dates back to 2009, when Ted Smith, a local environment activist, filed a public records request about various San Jose officials’ requests concerning local development efforts. When records came back that did not include materials from personal devices or accounts, he sued.

The state Supreme Court was unequivocal in its conclusion:

CPRA and the Constitution strike a careful balance between public access and personal privacy. This case concerns how that balance is served when documents concerning official business are created or stored outside the workplace. The issue is a narrow one: Are writings concerning the conduct of public business beyond CPRA’s reach merely because they were sent or received using a non governmental account? Considering the statute’s language and the important policy interests it serves, the answer is no. Employees’ communications about official agency business may be subject to CPRA regardless of the type of account used in their preparation or transmission.

According to the Associated Press, 26 states have laws that explicitly make such private communications related to government business officially part of public records—however, that list does not include California.

The court also said that the public has a responsibility to verify that the government is doing its job:

It is no answer to say, as did the Court of Appeal, that we must presume public officials conduct official business in the public’s best interest. The Constitution neither creates nor requires such an optimistic presumption. Indeed, the rationale behind the Act is that it is for the public to make that determination, based on information to which it is entitled under the law. Open access to government records is essential to verify that government officials are acting responsibly and held accountable to the public they serve.

San Jose and the other respondents had argued that it would simply be too onerous and too invasive to require that public officials hand over passwords to their private accounts. The court noted that because the city “has not attempted to search for documents located in personal accounts, the legality of a specific kind of search is not before us.”

[Private accounts are not for storage of public documents. Putting the documents there is wrong.]

Judicial originalism as myth – Vox

Judicial originalism as myth – Vox

“It is simply anti-democratic to conceal something as fundamental as the nature of constitutional decision-making — especially if concealment is motivated by the fear that the citizenry wouldn’t stand for the practice if it knew the truth. If the Court can’t admit what it is doing, then it shouldn’t do it.” —Paul Brest, 1981

The doctrine of originalism, whereby judges purport to identify and then rely on the original meaning of the United States Constitution to resolve constitutional cases, is more ingrained in our national consciousness today than at any other time in our history. Six years ago, one of our most liberal justices, Elena Kagan, stated during her confirmation hearing that “we are all originalists.” Prominent professors are proudly proclaiming in our most elite law reviews that “Originalism is our Law.”

President Donald Trump promised to nominate an originalist justice to the Supreme Court, and then followed through on that promise with Judge Neil Gorsuch, who self-identifies as an originalist. At his confirmation hearing, the term “originalism” will no doubt be uttered by every GOP senator trying to win points with his constituency and establish the nominee’s bona fides as the heir apparent to the late Justice Scalia.

This genuflection toward the original meaning of the Constitution is, however, at best misleading and at worst a sham. What the words of the document meant to the people living at the time is just one of many different factors judges use to decide constitutional cases. So-called original meaning almost never drives the results in litigated cases but instead is used by judges to justify results they reached on other grounds. As Judge Richard Posner has written, “there has never been a time when the courts of the United States behaved consistently in accordance with the ideal” described by originalists.

There are strong reasons why judges have never consistently used originalism to decide hard cases. For one thing, if the original meaning of the framers of either the original Constitution or the Reconstruction amendments were taken seriously by today’s judges, we would live in a much different and much worse society. Segregated schools under the law and official governmental discrimination against women, gays, and lesbians would be permissible.

For example, Brown v. Board of Education, one of the most important cases of the 20th century, would have turned out the other way if the justices had accepted originalist principles. The lawmakers and people who ratified the 14th Amendment, the post-Civil War amendment that granted equal protection under the law to black citizens, did not universally embrace segregation, but they indisputably understood it to be constitutionally permitted.

Criticism of Brown today would make any federal court nominee toxic and unconfirmable, so originalists have had to come up with remarkably contorted arguments to escape this obvious conclusion. Some, like Stanford’s Michael McConnell, have made unpersuasive arguments that the people living in 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, and shortly thereafter, would have thought segregated schools to be illegal. (McConnell, strangely, places special emphasis on the debates leading up to the Civil Rights Act of 1875, highlighting anti-segregationist arguments — and downplaying the widespread segregation of schools in 1868.)

Judge Robert Bork, a hero to originalists, made several arguments about Brown. In a 1971 law review article, he argued that the 14th Amendment “was intended to enforce a core idea of black equality against government discrimination.” In short, he created an abstract ideal, opening the door to arguing that what “equal” meant in 1868 is different from what it meant in 1954 (and today). But of course, once that move is made for “equal,” why not for “due process,” “establishment,” “cruel and unusual,” and other vague constitutional language that Bork thought liberal judges and scholars abused?

A true originalist (or textualist) might also have to conclude that the entire Bill of Rights, including its protections for free speech, freedom of religion, and criminal procedure would be inapplicable to the states. After all, the First Amendment only limits the power of “Congress.” The great Chief Justice John Marshall held that none of the Bill of Rights limited state power. Whether or not the 14th Amendment changed that analysis as an historical matter is hotly contested. While over time the justices have concluded that most of the protections in the Bill of Rights apply to the states through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, others think that result is not justified by either the text or history of that provision.

As Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California Irvine, has pointed out, a serious text-and-history approach (as opposed to a lip service one) would mean the end of judicial protection “for liberties such as the right to marry, the right to procreate, the right to custody of one’s children, the right to keep the family together, the right of parents to control the upbringing of their children, the right to purchase and use contraceptives, the right to abortion, the right to refuse medical care, [and] the right to engage in private consensual homosexual activity. No longer would women be protected from discrimination under equal protection.”

Of course, no constitutional theory should be judged by outcomes alone. But most of the rights mentioned by Chemerinsky are utterly uncontroversial today. Although some forms of modern originalism might not be inconsistent with all of these rights, and some originalists might say that stare decisis concerns — that is, the imperative to follow precedent — would lead them to approve some of them, it is still startling how many basic rights we take for granted would be endangered if a majority of the court employed originalism in good faith.

The belief that originalism does not and should not drive judicial decisions is not new. In 1939, Professor Jacobus tenBroek of the University of California at Berkeley demonstrated that what he called “original intent” (but today we call original meaning) constituted “one of the fundamental fallacies of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

The arguments he made in support of this conclusion, made in a remarkable five-part series in the California Law Review, are all but unanswerable as a description of how the Court decides constitutional cases. His work is as important today as it was then; all the reasons he gave for rejecting originalism as both a descriptive and normative theory apply with equal force to the modern Court. Long before the debate between the originalists and so-called living constitutionalists of the 1980s, tenBroek’s series showed with surprising clarity how misleading it is for judges and academics to suggest that original meaning either does or should play a significant role in constitutional interpretation.

In the first four parts of his series, tenBroek showed — through a detailed historical analysis of judicial decisions — that the Justices sometimes used historical sources to support their legal conclusions but often did not. In important 19th-century cases ranging from the validity of a national bank to the constitutionality of congressional efforts to limit slavery to the permissibility of Congress printing paper money, the justices selectively used historical sources including the Federalist Papers, the actions of early Congresses, and the opinions of the Founding Fathers. It was hard to conclude, tenBroek summarized, that the judges weren’t simply selecting evidence in order to justify the results they preferred.

A modern example of this selective originalist interpretation by judges is the landmark Second Amendment case District of Columbia v. Heller, of 2008, in which Justices Scalia and Stevens canvassed what each thought to be the relevant historical sources only to come to completely different conclusions as to whether the amendment protects an individual right to own guns. Serious historians have not treated either opinion kindly, and of course both men, like the justices discussed by tenBroek, reached the conclusions that you’d expect given their values writ large.

In the series’ fifth and most important article, tenBroek added to his detailed historical analysis two normative assumptions that he said the justices claimed to adhere to when resolving constitutional questions: 1) judges should “abandon” contemporary perspectives in deference to the “vantage point” of the people living when the Constitution was adopted; and 2) the original meaning of the Constitution does not change.

Most modern originalists, including the late Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas, would agree with tenBroek’s description of originalist assumptions. Scalia spent years touring the country telling audiences that the Constitution, far from being a living document, was “dead, dead, dead.” So-called “New Originalists” like Georgetown University’s Randy Barnett, who, unlike Scalia, concede that originalism often runs out in hard cases before “constitutional construction” begins, also believe that the meaning of the Constitution doesn’t change. In Barnett’s words, “an originalist simply could not accept that the Supreme Court could change the meaning of the text from what it meant as enacted and still remain an originalist.”

TenBroek demonstrated, however, that the original meaning of the Constitution in fact changes all the time in the hands of judges and justices (as it should, to keep up with modern conditions).

In the space of just a few years, tenBroek observed, minimum wage laws for women were first held to be unconstitutional as being beyond the police power of the state and then upheld as rationally related to legitimate economic concerns. Pointing to the reversal of numerous important cases by the post-New Deal Court, tenBroek observed that these “changes in the meaning of the Constitution did not result from altered judicial views as to the original intent; they came rather from a different prevailing attitude in the Court with respect to economic, social, and political policy.”

Modern originalists might respond that the justices who upheld significant economic regulation after the initial rejection of many New Deal programs misread and changed the scope of the commerce clause and other sources of federal power. Strikingly, however, doctrinal changes are often agreed to by so-called originalist justices who vote for non-originalist interpretations (without admitting it).

For example, for many years the Supreme Court gave little or no judicial protection to commercial speech rights of corporations or the desires of state governments to be immune from direct congressional regulation (commandeering). Recently, however, with Justices Scalia and Thomas agreeing, the Court has changed its mind on both issues with little regard to the original meaning of the relevant constitutional provisions.

In fact, as I have argued elsewhere, the list of non-originalist results advocated by these two justices is quite long and cuts through large swaths of constitutional law including affirmative action, takings, campaign finance reform, standing, and sovereign immunity. Many of these changes overturned prior Supreme Court cases. Judge Posner is right: No Supreme Court Justice, including Scalia and Thomas, has ever employed originalism on a consistent basis

Some modern-day “New Originalist” scholars argue that even though the meaning of the constitutional text does not change, that meaning will inevitably be applied by judges to new conditions, a process that will produce evolving constitutional decisions. As noted earlier, Randy Barnett calls this “constitutional construction.” If a case cannot be decided by way of the original meaning of the text, Barnett says, judge should look to the “spirit” of the text. He describes the search for this “spirit” as an empirical inquiry and contends (implausibly) that this search is less open-ended than theories of constitutional interpretation advanced by non-originalists.

But this is an originalist argument in name only. Professor Barnett’s “constitutional construction” is just another form of “living constitutionalism,” given that identifying the “spirit” of vague constitutional provisions with contested histories allows judges and scholars to advocate for just about any and all results.

In Barnett’s hands, for example, our Constitution’s “spirit” is overwhelmingly libertarian, and would bar much economic regulation that we now take for granted. That “spirit” also justifies a strong Second Amendment and even allows judges to use the historically ignored Ninth Amendment to find and enforce fundamental rights. It is no coincidence that all of these ideas are consistent with Barnett’s personal worldview, as I argued in a review of his latest book.

In recent years, numerous self-identifying new originalists have reached the remarkable conclusions that, based on originalism, same-sex marriage is required under the 14th Amendment while affirmative action is barred under the same provision even though there are no strong arguments that the people who ratified the 14th Amendment would have agreed with either conclusion. These scholars want to don the originalism mantle while at the same time avoid being locked into the specific results that the original ratifiers of our Constitution and its amendments would have expected. In other words, they want to argue they are using originalist arguments at the same time that they disavow the obvious consequences of originalism for many modern problems.

We all agree that specific constitutional requirements, such as there must be “two” senators from every state or the president must be “35,” must be enforced strictly and without regard to changing facts. But if words and phrases like “equal protection of the laws,” “due process of law,” and “freedom of speech” can lead to different judicial conclusions at different times because of different modern conditions (which Barnett and other new originalists have conceded), then there is no difference between originalists and non-originalists for any case likely to be litigated. This conclusion is consistent with tenBroeks’s study showing judges will reach the results they think best whether or not they are justified by the original meaning of the Constitution.

On March 20, when the confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin, Judge Gorsuch and the United States Senate are going to play an elaborate trick on the American people (just as Justice Scalia did for years). They will pretend that the original meaning of the Constitution is what judges both use and should use to resolve hard constitutional questions. Gorsuch has said, “Judges should … strive (if humanly and so imperfectly) to apply the law as it is, focusing backward, not forward, and looking to text, structure, and history to decide what a reasonable reader at the time of the events in question would have understood the law to be.”

But Gorsuch does not make decisions like that now, and he will not make decisions that way if he makes it to the Supreme Court. The confirmation process will have been a sham because, as tenBroek demonstrated almost 80 years ago, the justices don’t decide cases that way, and they shouldn’t decide cases that way.

The original meaning of the text, if there even is such a thing in hard cases, is but one small factor in a complex assessment of how an ancient document should govern modern times, and original meaning pales (and should pale) as a determinant of decisions, compared with the politics, morals, and values of a majority of the justices on the Supreme Court.

Mars Needs Lawyers | FiveThirtyEight

Mars Needs Lawyers | FiveThirtyEight

The Liberian flag is easy to mistake for the U.S. flag. There’s the red, white and blue. There’s the stripes. The only difference is that the Liberian flag features one star in the upper left corner, instead of 50 — a legacy of the coastal West African country’s origins as a U.S. colony.

Someday, maybe 10 years from now — or more likely hundreds — this could be the flag that flies above a geodesic dome, fluttering in the dusty red breeze of a Martian afternoon.

The treaties that govern space allow private individuals and corporations to travel the stars, but only with the licensure and legal backing of an earthbound government. It’s similar that way to the laws of the sea. And today, on Earth’s oceans, more than 11 percent of all the tons of freight shipped is carried on boats that fly the Liberian flag.1 In exchange for lower taxes and looser regulations, both the shipping companies of the present and the Martian explorers of tomorrow could pay to register their vessel with a small country they have no other connection to2 and carry its flag (and laws) with them, wherever they go.

We may slip the surly bonds of Earth, but we will not escape the knots tied by Earth law and politics.

Nobody knows what the geopolitics of Mars might someday be like. The experts I spoke with took pains to point out that SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s dream of humans on the Martian surface by the 2020s is a tiny bit of a stretch goal, so guessing about the laws they’ll live under is even more tenuous. But the governance of space has always been affected by the governance of Earth. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, for instance, was the political driver behind the race for the moon and set the stage for the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies — which is still our primary legal document outlining the rules for space.

But recent history suggests that the future could upend a lot of our expectations. The history of space politics and space law was about superpowers and how they might interact in the heavens. The future of space politics, in contrast, could involve more global coalitions, more small countries wielding surprising levels of influence, and more of a presence for countries outside Europe and the U.S.

The path to this possible future began, as most things in space do, with the U.S. and Russia. “By far and away, the most important [moment in space geopolitics] has to do with what happened at the end of the Cold War, when the U.S. brought Russia aboard the space station,” said W. Henry Lambright, professor of public administration, international affairs and political science at Syracuse University and author of “Why Mars: NASA and the Politics of Space Exploration.”

That was an outgrowth of Reagan administration policy that regarded the International Space Station as a new way of flexing American muscle, said John Logsdon, founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute. Think of it like the transition from the grade-school playground sort of power to something more akin to the social cliques of high school. Instead of proving we were important by beating everybody else in a race, the ISS gave the United States the chance to prove it was important because it could create a club that other countries wanted to join.

That multinational tree fort, and the decision to invite the Russians inside, really changed the balance of power in space, Lambright told me — but not necessarily in Americans’ favor. The very creation of the ISS required multinational technology transfer negotiations that allowed the countries involved then-unprecedented access to and sharing of technology and research data. That was useful, and it brought the United States some benefits, Lambright said. But the ISS also created a new paradigm in which the U.S. needed to work with other countries in space, especially Russia, whom we now rely on to get to the ISS to begin with.

Today, other countries are beginning to take the lead in space science and crewed space projects; witness the rise of the European Space Agency. That organization was founded as the European Space Research Organization in 1964, but the frequency of its missions increased after 1990.

The benefit to this, from NASA’s perspective: If you’re not the one in charge of everything, then you don’t have to pay for it all. And human missions to Mars are likely to intensify that trend. Musk estimates that it will cost $10 billion to develop the rocketry needed to get to Mars. Life support, food and logistics are all extra. In 1989, NASA estimated that the cost of a human Mars mission could reach $400 billion — a number that effectively killed that plan. More recent reports suggest a wide range of possible costs, as low as $6 billion for Mars One’s one-way trip plan, or as high as $100 billion, according to a 2014 review by an expert panel. (That $100 billion is much cheaper than the 1989 proposal, which would have been equivalent to more than $700 billion in 2014 dollars.)

It is, Lambright said, “something so expensive that nobody really contemplates doing it by themselves. Including Musk.”

Instead, he said, getting there would require an international coalition of governments, private companies and foundations. Which means it’s unlikely that the first human habitation on Mars will be an American ship, carrying a crew of Americans to plant an American flag in the dust. Those days are over. And a lot of other countries — especially ones that weren’t rich enough to carry out an independent space program in the 20th century — realize this, said Frans von der Dunk, professor of space law at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Nigeria’s space program is involved in crafting international law, has launched several satellites and plans to put a human into space by 2030. India is launching satellites at a furious pace — 20 on a single rocket in June — and selling its launch services to other countries, including the United States. That country sent an orbiter to Mars in 2014 for 11 percent of what NASA spent to do roughly the same thing.

That has implications for the law. The 1967 treaty — known as the Outer Space Treaty, for short — was signed by 104 countries and was the document that helped humans create a space environment that’s more “Star Trek” than “Star Wars” — but it primarily addresses individual, independent governments bumping into one another as they go about their separate business, according to von der Dunk and Joanne Gabrynowicz, a retired professor of space law at the University of Mississippi and the editor-in-chief emerita of the Journal of Space Law. The countries with space programs have all signed it, but the document still leaves ambiguity and unanswered questions when it comes to issues such as corporate spaceflight and multinational coalitions.

For instance, under the Outer Space Treaty, you can’t just go around claiming Martian land for Spain. But a habitation pod built by Spain is Spanish territory, Gabrynowicz said. And in a place where humans have no choice but to live in a pod or die, planting your habitat on a patch of ground might be a way to claim that land in practical terms, even if you can’t do so legally. Meanwhile, crew members retain their Earth citizenships and remain subject to the laws of their home nations, von der Dunk said.

So what happens when you have an American, two Indians, a Russian and a Nigerian living in a pod that’s owned by a private corporation under the authorization of Liberia? By whose laws are they all governed? What happens if the rules set by one country conflict with another’s? Who benefits from the mineral rights? What if India decides it’s OK for its citizens on Mars to secede and form their own Martian government before Liberia decides that’s OK?

These issues are further complicated by the fact that they overlap with stated priorities of the current U.S. president in complex (and probably, at this point, unpredictable) ways. Space exploration is one of the science-related topics that came up most frequently during the president’s campaign speeches, when he spoke highly of NASA and promised not to cut space funding, and he has bemoaned what he sees as the loss of American leadership in space. It’s an easy extrapolation to imagine that sending NASA astronauts to Mars would be seen as making American spaceflight great again.

On the other hand, insiders have reported that the Trump administration has a deep interest in commercializing space, as well. And given that this president has already established a confusing and contentious perspective on other international collaborations, it’s not clear that the administration would feel the same way about a NASA mission to Mars as it would about an international mission to Mars that included NASA. The Trump administration did not respond to a request for comment.

There are legal analogies that show the geopolitical questions of space can be answered — cruise ships sailing in international waters, for instance. But the real problem is political, Gabrynowicz said. There isn’t yet broad international agreement on how ownership of something like extracted space resources should be allotted, so what answers we come up with will have less to do with lawyers, like her, and more to do with politicians, like Trump.

For instance, a limited number of satellites can orbit the Earth simultaneously. Put up too many, and you end up with an expensive game of celestial bumper cars. But some countries — Russia and the United States, in particular — had a big head start on gobbling up those slots. What do you do if you’re Nigeria? Today, Gabrynowicz said, the international community has settled on a regulatory system that attempts to balance the needs of nations that can put an object into geostationary orbit first with the needs of those that aren’t there yet but could be later. And even this compromise is still extremely controversial.

The same basic disagreement behind them will apply to Mars, too. And it’s at issue right now in the U.S., as lawmakers try to figure out how best to implement the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act — a bill signed by President Obama in November 2015. That law states that U.S. companies can own and sell space resources — including minerals and water. But the details of what this means in practice haven’t been worked out yet, Gabrynowicz said. Legal experts say that those details will make the difference in terms of whether the law puts the U.S. in violation of the Outer Space Treaty.

This question of whether space should be an Old West-style gold rush or an equitably distributed public commons could have been settled decades ago, with the 1979 Moon Agreement (aka the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies), which would have established space as part of the “common heritage of mankind.” What this would have meant in practice is not totally clear. But at the time, opponents saw it as having the potential to ban all private enterprise and effectively turn the heavens into a United Nations dictatorship. It ended up being signed by a handful of countries, most of which have no space program. But it is international law, and if humans go to Mars, though, we’ll likely end up debating this issue again.

“Here’s what I’ve told my students for years,” Gabrynowicz said. “Space is sexy. It’s glitzy. It’s about rocketry and satellites and all sorts of wonderful things. But the truth is, we must understand that leaving Earth will not solve human problems alone. Whatever our issues on Earth are, they’re going with us, and we still have to address them.”

Techdirt lawyers ask judge to throw out suit over “Inventor of E-mail” | Ars Technica

Techdirt lawyers ask judge to throw out suit over “Inventor of E-mail” | Ars Technica

Michael Masnick, who founded the popular Techdirt blog, filed a motion today asking for a defamation lawsuit against him to be thrown out. Masnick was sued last month by Shiva Ayyadurai, a scientist and entrepreneur who claims to have invented e-mail in 1978 at a medical college in New Jersey.

In his motion, Masnick claims that Ayyadurai “is seeking to use the muzzle of a defamation action to silence those who question his claim to historical fame.” He continues:

The 14 articles and 84 allegedly defamatory statements catalogued in the complaint all say essentially the same thing: that Defendants believe that because the critical elements of electronic mail were developed long before Ayyadurai’s 1978 computer program, his claim to be the “inventor of e-mail” is false.

The motion holds that Techdirt’s allegedly defamatory statements are actually constitutionally protected opinion. “This lawsuit is a misbegotten effort to stifle historical debate, silence criticism, and chill others from continuing to question Ayyadurai’s grandiose claims,” write Masnick’s lawyers.

The motion skims the history of e-mail and points out that the well-known fields of e-mail messages, like “to,” “from,” “cc,” “subject,” “message,” and “bcc,” were used in ARPANET e-mail messages for years before Ayyadurai made his “EMAIL” program.

Ayyadurai focuses on statements calling him a “fake,” a “liar,” or a “fraud” putting forth “bogus” claims. Masnick counters that such phrases are “rhetorical hyperbole” meant to express opinions and reminds the court that “[t]he law provides no redress for harsh name-calling.”

The perfect cheesecake

The motion also points out Techdirt’s “frequently sarcastic, obviously… humorous” subheadings and “casual and often hyperbolic” tone to explain some of the harsher phrases in the Ayyadurai posts. One of Techdirts posts calls Ayyadurai “absolutely nutty” and another says his “claim is complete bullshit.”

“Instead of articulating what facts in the posts are supposedly untrue, Plaintiff repeatedly attacks the conclusion that he is not the ‘inventor of email’,” write Masnick’s lawyers. They continue:

No matter how fervently plaintiff may insist that he alone “invented email,” the law does not entitle him to recover damages simply because Techdirt has uttered a “subjective characterization” to the contrary. It is in the very nature of computer science that new ideas and products emerge in an evolutionary way, as various actors modify and improve what has come before.
Whether any individual person “invented” a given technology is invariably a subjective determination that will vary depending on which features are deemed essential to the product. The answer will always remain in the eye of the beholder. The debate over who “invented” email is inherently incapable of objective proof…

It is like a debate over the precise moment when the civil rights movement began or a quarrel about the essential attributes of a perfect cheesecake.

In the end, this isn’t a debate about facts, say Masnick’s lawyers. Both Ayyadurai and Masnick acknowledge that the MAILBOX program was created at MIT in the 1960s and that Ray Tomlinson created the “@” symbol protocol in 1971. The two draw different conclusions, however. Ayyadurai calls the ARPANET creations “command-line protocols for transferring text messages” or “primitive electronic communication systems.” In Masnick’s view, Ayyadurai doesn’t dispute the historical facts, but instead “attacks Techdirt’s opinion that because those developments implemented the essential features of ’email’ therefore Ayyadurai’s claimed ‘inventor’ status is unwarranted.”

Techdirt admits that Ayyadurai created a useful software program while he was at UMDNJ and even “applauds it.” In addition to his criticism, Masnick also said Ayyadurai “should be quite proud of what he’s done.”

Other statements that Ayyadurai has sued over, Masnick’s lawyers describe as essentially speculations about Ayyadurai’s motivation and intent, which can’t be actionable because they are just inferences. Statements in this category include Techdirt posts stating that Ayyadurai is “blatantly misrepresenting history for his own personal aggrandizing,” “relying on the ignorance of reporters,” and “obsessed with his false claim of creating email.”

The brief also notes that Techdirt’s “general tenor” reinforces that it is a blog of opinionated commentary. The posts in question were written in first person, “resemble letters and op-ed columns,” and relate to a “heated debate” over the origins of email that dates back to at least 2012.

Masnick also filed a motion asking for the lawsuit to be thrown out under California’s anti-SLAPP law. If successful, an anti-SLAPP ruling could result in some of his legal fees being covered. That motion argues that California law should be followed because Masnick,, and parent company Floor64 all reside in California and have no connections to Massachusetts, where Ayyadurai lives and filed his lawsuit.

“Unfortunately, the fight itself is incredibly distracting and burdensome,” writes Masnick in a blog post published shortly after his legal documents were filed today. “It has taken up a significant amount of my time (and the time of others who work here) over the last month and delayed multiple projects that we were working on and even forced us to pass on writing about many stories we would have liked cover.”

Masnick has created a “Techdirt Survival Fund” at

Ayyadurai didn’t respond to an e-mailed request for comment about Masnick’s new arguments. Masnick declined to comment beyond his court filings and blog post.

LA County Superior Court Unveils New E-Filing System – Courthouse News Service

LA County Superior Court Unveils New E-Filing System – Courthouse News Service

Los Angeles County Superior Court on Thursday introduced a new electronic filing system for probate cases, and expects to roll out a similar system for civil lawsuits next year.

At a public meeting at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown LA, officials said they will launch the e-filing system on June 5. The public can then file probate documents electronically through 21 different vendors, or electronic filing service providers.

“You have the ability to do it 24/7,” probate Judge David Cowan told an audience at a meeting on the second floor of the courthouse. “This is no longer going to be the old world, rushing to have your messenger service come down and make sure the doors are still open at 4:30.”

The new e-filing software replaces the court’s aging probate case management system. Tyler Technologies, a company that provides software to the public sector, is managing the electronic filing system and is an intermediary between the vendors and the court. Sixteen courts in California currently use a similar system.

The only courthouse that will continue to accept probate documents in person is the Antelope Valley courthouse in Lancaster, 70 miles north of downtown Los Angeles.

Court Clerk Sherri Carter said that unlike the federal e-filing system, state court employees review and process the filings before they appear on the court’s docket.

“In the state’s system, when you file them you submit them and they’re received by the court. You’ll get a notice when they’re received but they are not automatically filed like in the federal system,” Carter said. “They go into an electronic inbox so that the clerk’s office will review them, and when they’re filed you’ll get notice of their filing or if they’re returned to you, you’ll get a notice of what the problems are.”

Carter confirmed that in some cases it might be two days or more before a filing is available to the public. Federal court does not withhold new filings while they’re processed.

“In the federal court, every document that’s filed is available online once it’s uploaded,” Carter said.

Confirmation to the filer of receipt and submission to the court’s probate system is immediate. After the clerk’s office reviews, processes and accepts the new filing, then an electronic copy of the processed filing is sent to the filer. It takes the clerk’s office between two hours and two days to process the new filings.

The court’s chief information officer Snorri Ogata said the court will not profit from the new system and passes on any costs to the vendors.

After the meeting, Ogata said that it might take longer for the court to process a filing if it received toward the end of day or after business hours. He noted that the court’s system for unlimited civil filings would be managed by Journal Technologies, a case management software company owned by the publisher Daily Journal Corporation.

In 2016, the California-based news service successfully challenged in federal court the Ventura county clerk for denying timely access to new lawsuits. U.S. District Judge S. James Otero in the Central District of California found that a First Amendment right of access attaches when the clerk receives a new filing, and he enjoined Ventura Clerk Michael Planet from withholding new unlimited civil actions while his office processes them.

Ogata said that he was aware of the litigation and Otero’s ruling, noting that it would apply to the general civil e-filing system managed by Journal Technologies.

“We will comply with it from day one,” Ogata said.

The court says it expects to roll out e-filing for family law, limited civil, unlimited civil and complex civil cases in the summer of 2018.

New Mexico Public Records Law Called Unconstitutional – Courthouse News Service

New Mexico Public Records Law Called Unconstitutional – Courthouse News Service

New Mexico’s public records law unconstitutionally restricts the public from using information from public-record databases for “political purpose,” a state lawmaker says, and he’s submitted an amendment.

House Bill 227, by state Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Bernalillo County, cuts two words from the law on the books, New Mexico Statute 14-3-15.1. That law states, in part: “The state agency that has inserted data in a database may authorize a copy to be made of a computer tape or other medium containing a computerized database of a public record for any person if the person agrees … not to use the database for any political or commercial purpose unless the purpose and use is approved in writing by the state agency that created the database.”

McQueen’s amendment removes the words “political or” from the passage.

The bill passed through the House State Government, Indian & Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Thursday and sent to the House Judiciary Committee.

Passage may not be so simple, McQueen told Courthouse News.

“I set out to do something very simple, and it’s becoming … not simple,” he said.

“That one word is pretty clearly unconstitutional. I think people are willing to fix that. It’s just that I’ve gotten into this swampy area.”

McQueen said he’s been told that implementing the amendment might cost up to $1.2 million, though he’s unclear where that number came from, or what would be so expensive about simply allowing people to use the same information they are allowed to request for non-political purposes without a restriction of intent.

Others think the bill doesn’t go far enough. Peter St. Cyr, director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said in an interview: “We think that there needs to be even more work to be done on these database records. There’s often claims that this data is proprietary. We contend that it’s the public’s data.”

St. Cyr’s group does support the bill, though. “We think that it’s a great step, because this is a public record and how it’s used by anybody is not the government’s concern,” St. Cyr said.

In that, at least, the group and Rep. McQueen are in agreement. McQueen stated bluntly: “I don’t think the current restriction would withstand judicial scrutiny, but we shouldn’t make people go to court to defend their constitutional rights.”

Bring Your Own Execution Drugs, Arizona Tells Death Row Lawyers – Courthouse News Service

Bring Your Own Execution Drugs, Arizona Tells Death Row Lawyers – Courthouse News Service

The Arizona Department of Corrections has taken a novel approach to the increasingly difficult task of procuring the necessary drugs to execute inmates: encouraging attorneys to obtain lethal-injection drugs for their clients on death row.

The one-paragraph proposal, released last month in a 36-page “Execution Procedures” manual, instructs inmates’ counsel or family members to bring enough pentobarbital or sodium thiopental – barbiturates injected in high doses to kill condemned inmates – if they can get them “from a certified or licensed pharmacist, pharmacy, compound pharmacy, manufacturer, or supplier.”

A third protocol consists of sodium thiopental, a muscle relaxant and potassium chloride. Corrections department director Charles Ryan chooses which protocol to use for each execution.

The department did not respond to requests for comment about the new policy.

“I really think it’s unacceptable,” said Larry Hammond, a prominent criminal defense lawyer whose been working on capital cases since the 1970s who also founded the Arizona Justice Project. “It’s just not imaginable to me in a civilized society that we would be encouraging the lawyer for a condemned person to participate in the execution of his client.”

Hammond said lawyers can’t legally obtain drugs like sodium thiopental or pentobarbital anyway.

Over the last six years, supply chains of lethal-injection drugs have collapsed under global pressure from death penalty opponents; it’s now virtually impossible for prisons to source the drugs. The Guardian and other outlets speculated the bring-your-own-drugs protocol is how Arizona is addressing the shortage.

Sodium thiopental is no longer made in the United States and is illegal to import. In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration blocked a shipment of the drug destined for Arizona, which had paid $27,000 to import it from India.

Danish pharmaceutical company Lundbeck restricted access to Nembutal, a name brand for pentobarbital, for executions after widespread public protest in 2011 and sold the rights to the drug to Illinois-based Akorn Inc. Pharmaceuticals the same year. In 2015, Akorn said they would bar the drug for use in capital punishment.

But Hammond doubted the sincerity of the Arizona proposal, calling it “more theatrical than real” and likening it to “schoolyard bullying.”

Arizona has not executed anyone since 2014, when convicted murderer Joseph Wood was administered 15 rounds of the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone – a two-drug protocol implemented that year amid controversy after sodium thiopental became unavailable. According to witnesses, Wood was strapped to a gurney for almost two hours, snorting and gasping for air.

Meanwhile, Wood’s lawyers filed an emergency motion attempting to halt the execution. It was denied shortly after he died.

Prior to Wood’s execution, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared an injunction entered by the Ninth Circuit that would have required Arizona to reveal its sources for midazolam and hydromorphone and the credentials of the executioners.

Shortly after Wood’s death, then-Gov. Jan Brewer called for an investigation of the procedure; corrections officials maintained Wood remained heavily sedated and did not suffer throughout the procedures.

“The report is clear that the execution of inmate Wood was handled in accordance with all department procedures, which, as the report states, either meet or exceed national standards,” corrections chief Ryan said in a statement. “It was done appropriately and with the utmost professionalism.”

Regardless, as part of a joint stipulated settlement last December, the department vowed to never use midazolam or any other benzodiazepine in a lethal injection again.

Death penalty opponents believe Wood indeed suffered.

“Scientific evidence shows that this class of drugs is not an appropriate drug for use in lethal injection executions. Time after time, midazolam has failed to keep condemned prisoners adequately anesthetized and to bring about a quick, humane death,” Dale Baich, a federal public defender who represented Wood, said in a statement.

Hammond believes the corrections department came up with the new protocol as a put-on, in part due to the backlash it received after Wood’s execution.

“To even suggest that you could have a lawyer assist in facilitating the execution seems to be the exact opposite of what a lawyer should do,” Hammond said. “Frankly, I think shows a real insensitivity to the role of lawyers in a capital system.”

Arizona currently has 119 inmates on death row.